Chapter 4: Making Friends

Chapter 4: Making Friends

Solo travelling has made me confront a personality trait I've hidden from myself and everyone around me for years: I am shy.

Chapter 4: Making Friends

“A man’s vanity is more fragile that you might think. It’s easy for us to mistake shyness for coldness, and silence for indifference.” Lisa Kleypas

Shyness is not a personality trait anyone would expect me to possess, even my own family would describe me as outgoing, yet it’s one I’ve secretly battled with from my earliest memories. Even as that four year old girl on a Thompson’s family holiday, I recognised that shyness was not a quality I wanted to have and so I ignored it, instead signing up to every single talent show and group activity and ensuring I was the loudest person in the room. I’ve refused to accept social awkwardness and timidness so much that at times I’ve even forgot it myself.

Yet it was whilst devouring my breakfast of empanadas Holboxañas at CasaSandra that I was forced to confront it. Three girls who looked a similar age to me came and sat down a few tables down and I noticed they were speaking English, one with an Irish accent. “Go talk to them”, the voice in my head instructed. “But what do I say?”, my shyer-self answered back.

I didn’t manage to muster the courage, and off I went alone on my private boat trip, that voice in my head berating me for my flaws yet again (I told you this voice made a regular appearance). It’s a funny thing shyness, I reflected as the boat moved from island to island; I have no qualms about talking on the radio to thousands of listeners, or presenting to camera with a team of camera men and producers surrounding me. You can even put me in front of people who want or expect my attention and I can charm their socks off, yet send me to an event and I get social anxiety until I find a familiar face to cling to. I suppose it’s fair to say my industry might have even increased my timidness, particularly after witnessing people refuse to have pictures taken with me at events (in front of my face), or that time I was the victim of an unknown person selling a story about a relatively high-profile relationship I was in to the press. It drove me crazy for a couple of weeks, who could I trust?

I’m convinced that my inner shyness has made some people I’ve come into contact with throughout my life presume I am arrogant or unfriendly, when in fact I am the opposite. Jane Austin actually sums it up perfectly in Sense and Sensibility when she wrote:

“I never wish to offend, but I am so foolishly shy, that I often seem negligent, when I am only kept back by my natural awkwardness. Shyness is only the effect of a sense of inferiority in some way or other. If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy.”

I’ve never stepped into a room and presumed everyone liked me, in fact I’m quite paranoid that people hate me, and most of my social interactions are attempts to convince people to like me or to feel assured that they do. I can psycho-analyse myself and say that it’s because I always felt an outsider as a working-class girl who won a scholarship to boarding school: too common for my school friends, and too posh for my home friends (who disappeared as soon as I returned home without a Geordie accent), but then the four year old girl on the dance floor wouldn’t even start boarding school for another four years. I guess it was something I was born with.

I FaceTimed Charlotte to laugh about my inadequacies and jokingly come up with dorky ways I could strike up a conversation: Oh you speak English? Hello I have friends from Ireland too! Hey, what brings you to Holbox? I know, I know, I’m a total nerd.

So when the girls appeared during breakfast the next morning, on my third and penultimate day, I had cursed and taken the pi*s out of myself enough that I knew I had to talk to them. And so when one of the girls went inside to the fresh fruit buffet, I seized my opportunity. I should probably add that I did actually want fruit, I didn’t entirely just stalk her.

“Hey, how are you” I said, and it was that easy. She was called Sarah and was from California (thank god for open and chatty Californians), and was on holiday with her friends from Germany and Ireland. They were all doctors who had met whilst studying Medicine in Prague. We quickly moved from the breakfast area to the pool and before I knew it we were sipping spicy frozen Margaritas and chatting away freely. Making friends was easy.

The girls were leaving Holbox Island for Tulum just a couple of hours after we met, so we said our goodbyes a little tipsily, and swapped digits. A few hours later I had a whatsapp message saying that they missed me and wanted me to join them in Tulum. And so the next day, I took the two hour trip from Holbox Island to Tulum where Erica and I checked into our ocean-facing honeymoon suite at the Ahau Hotel, Sofia and Sophia into the room a few doors down.

We laughed and shared stories, happy and sad, for the whole day and they filled me in on their eventful evening the night before. We had such a good time that the girls even extended their time in Tulum a day, and it was with a heavy heart that we said our goodbyes as they headed back to Cancun for the final day of their trip. It felt kind of magical that Mexico offered us the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen on our final night together.

And now here I am on a two day trip to Bacalar with a group of Mexican friends I met with the girls. I’ve even met someone from Mexico City who told me to call him if I end up that way so he can host me and show me around. In talking to the girls, I’ve created a chain of opportunity and adventure. Perhaps in finally confronting my shyness, this trip might see me overcome it?

Ashley James

Ashley James

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